TOM BRYANT: Hunting for the Area's Top Coon Dog
I knew I was at the right place when I pulled up in the drive behind an older Toyota 4-wheel drive pickup with an aluminum dog box in the back. The heavyweight rubber hip boots on the walkway confirmed my observation.
"Those are coon hunters' boots," I thought to myself as I rang the doorbell to Wayne and Vickie Haddock's home.
Wayne and Vickie are the parents of Brandon, the object of my interview. I was to meet Brandon and his super dog Belle to check out this fantastic animal.
"Come in, Mr. Bryant." Brandon and Belle met me at the door. I was impressed in a couple of ways. First, it's not very often that you find a coon dog in the house, especially one as mild-mannered as the small black and tan that greeted me. Secondly, this dog was quite obedient. A command from Brandon, and Belle was sitting right next to him.
Brandon is an engineering major at Sandhills Community College and is planning to transfer to N.C. State next spring. During the summer, he helps his dad at his building business, Pinehurst Homes. He's a tall, lanky, handsome fellow, and you could see in his eyes the pride he had for his little hound, Belle.
"Yep, she's about four years old, and I just lucked up when I found her. The folks out at Godwin's Sporting Goods put me onto her."
Raccoon hunting is a nitch sport in the hunting field. In all my years in the outdoors, I have been on only one coon hunt, one too many I thought at the time. I asked Brandon how in the world he got into the coon dog field trial business.
'Well, my granddad carried me with him a few times when I was a youngster; and one day a couple of years ago, I started thinking about how much fun I had on those trips and decided to get back into it. That's when I got Belle. She was a real challenge at first, wanting to chase rabbits and deer like crazy; but after several months training, she fell into coon hunting like she was supposed to. Now she's only two winning trials from being a Grand NITE Champion, as high as you can go." (Trials are called NITE hunts and the hounds are judged on their ability to run and tree coons.)
The little dog came over to me and sniffed my hand to make sure I deserved to be there. Apparently satisfied, she went back over to Brandon and sat down. I was impressed with her manners. I asked Brandon how a coon dog field trial worked. 'Well, it's pretty simple really. There are four dogs in a brace. You turn 'em loose at one time. When your dog barks or howls and you know she's on the trail, she must bark at least once every eight minutes. Once she trees, she has to bark every two minutes. My job is to get to the tree and spot the coon."
"That can't be easy," I said. "It's pitch black out there and you're going through all kinds of terrain, mostly swamp. Any problems getting to the tree?"
"Last week I did have a problem. I was in water up to my chest. The wife of my hunting buddy, she's a short girl, was up to her neck before we got to the tree. It has taken me as long as two hours to get to Belle once she has treed."
"Man," I answered, "that takes a special kind of young lady to head off into a pitch black swamp chasing a coon dog."
"Coon hunters are interesting people," he replied.
When I asked Brandon what was his most unusual coon adventure, he smiled sheepishly and said, "Well, there was the time we treed about a 250-pound black bear over close to Wagram. That was quite a hunt."
"What did you do when you got to the tree?" I asked. I could just see that little black and tan dog tangling with a bear.
"We left faster than we got there," he laughed.
I asked what his next competition plans were with Belle.
"She's won eight out of her last nine trials and only needs two more wins to become a national champion," Brandon replied as he scratched Belle's ears.
"I guess we might breed her. Her granddad was the number one coon dog in the country."
Whatever Brandon decides to do with his coon-hunting companion, he's having a great time doing it. I'm sure we'll be hearing more from Setum Up Southern Belle and her handler Brandon Haddock.
As I was packing up getting ready to leave, I asked him what he had cooking for the weekend.
"There's a trial up in Whiteville and then one over in Shallotte. After that, I don't know. I might just go coon hunting."
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